Speaking of reviews….

Feb-04-09

So, the quiet time here at Meanwhile…Comics continues, certainly longer than either Jason or I intended.  Both of us have been a tad overwhelmed lately by work, and since work pays the bills, it always has to come first.  Jason is going to be offline for the rest of this week as well, but I couldn’t let the entire blog sit quiet for another seven days, hence this entry.  There may even be more rambling from me later in the week, and how exciting would that be? I know.  It is pretty exhilarating.

I have been communicating with Jason, very briefly, and he does have some exciting news for the blog, but I won’t talk about it too much.  It’s his news and he can share.  However, his news touches on the concept of reviewing items, a topic that Jason and I discussed quite some time ago.  We listed some of the reasons we don’t do a lot (ok, any) reviews, but at the time we said that we hoped to do more of them soon.  Since that entry, we have done exactly zero real reviews, which continues our perfect record!  Yay us!

One of the reasons that we don’t do reviews was brought home to me again this past weekend, when I was reading Peter David’s IDW series Fallen Angel.  Fallen Angel began life as a series set in the DC Universe, but just before two years had passed, DC cancelled the title.  Luckily, it was picked up by IDW (which is, seriously, one of the best of the non-big two publishers out there today.  They publish some great series, and have given homes to a lot of deserving works) and it continues to be published there to this day.  It chronicles the story of…well, a fallen angel, and the lives, loves and adventures of her and the other inhabitants of the very interesting city of Bete Noire.

It’s certainly not a secret to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis that I am a huge fan of Peter David.  He wrote one of my all time favorite series, Young Justice.  Beyond that, I’ve enjoyed almost everything else he’s written.  He made me care about the Hulk, who was a character I had zero interest in until David’s tenure on the title.  I never read any of the X-Books on a regular basis, until David took over X-Factor, where he managed to make a rather unusual and motley crew of misfits into a really fascinating group (well, except for Wolfsbane…sorry, but she’s a character that still leaves me cold).  He took Madrox, for years considered a ridiculously silly and underpowered character, and made him one of the most interesting characters out there.  David has written numerous novels as well.  I started by reading his Star Trek novels, and soon branched out into his original novels, such as the Sir Apropos series.  Heck, I’m even a big fan of his column, “But I Digress”, which appears each month in Comic Buyers Guide.

Based upon how much I enjoy his work, it should come as no surprise that I picked up Fallen Angel when it was originally released by DC.  I have to admit, I wasn’t horribly impressed.  Some might say that this is because Fallen Angel is written in such a different style than a normal Peter David work, and that it’s not as amusing, but I would dispute that statement.  I don’t see David as simply a comedy writer.  I’m not sure how anyone who’s read the Hulk issue where Jim Wilson dies of AIDS, or the Young Justice issue where the Red Tornado’s adopted daughter is the victim of a hate crime, could consider David simply a comedy writer.  While he certainly can do comedy, and he can do it well, I’ve never pigeonholed him in that manner.  So, I wasn’t expecting Fallen Angel to be a laugh a minute.  It certainly was more serious than many of his titles, but I have no problem with that.  In the end, it wasn’t keeping my interest, and I was having problems remembering what had happened in the previous issue when I’d pick up a new one.  However, I continued to buy the series, both from DC and IDW.  Some people may consider that silly or counterproductive (why support something you’re not fond of), but I wanted to support David, and I should reiterate that I didn’t hate the series; I just wasn’t being drawn into it.

Had we been doing reviews of comics at that time, and had we reviewed Fallen Angel, I would not have been able to recommend it.  However, this weekend I sat down and read the entire series, from one end to the other.  Wow.  What a difference.  Read in its entirety, the series came alive for me in ways that it never had before.  The characters seemed more interesting, and their personalities were consistently engaging.  Plots and sub-plots sprang from the page and I realized that everthing fit together beautifully.  There was an obvious plan here, and the city of Bete Noire became a character in a way that is so extremely exciting when it happens, yet happens all too seldom.  It’s a shame that DC didn’t give the series more time, as Bete Noire would fit in quite well with their other cities (although, it’s also kind of nice to have the series in its own little universe.  I think it’s stronger without the idea that Superman or Batman could stop by for a visit).  After reading all these comics (over the space of a few days), I couldn’t wait for new ones to come out (which is sad, since the next issue for the title won’t be available until they relaunch the series again in December).

So, in the end, what is my point, beyond realizing that I had never fully appreciated Fallen Angel in the past?  My point is that, one of my problems with reviews is that my viewpoint on material will sometimes change.  Either the distance of time, or the circumstances under which I first encountered something will often color my thoughts on a story, and I may change my opinion.  I’m not saying that this means reviews are useless or that they’re a waste of time for those who either read or write them.  Often, my opinion doesn’t change, and as you force yourself to critically approach something you’ve read or watched, you can also carve your opinion more solidly.  That being said, one of my review concerns is that I will either applaud or condemn someone’s work, only to realize after time has passed, that I was wrong.  This is something that I’ll be taking into consideration as Jason and I move into doing reviews on the site.

Pfft…I’m NEVER wrong.


2009 Superhero Resolutions

Dec-17-08

When we’re not trying to save a forgotten character or rehabilitate one that seems to have fallen off-track, we (or at least I) always seem to end up taking the industry to task for one reason or another. I guess blogs wouldn’t exist if people didn’t have anything to complain about! As the clock winds down on 2008, it’s easy to look back and point fingers. At the same time, this joyous and comforting season provides the perfect opportunity to look ahead and resolve to make changes. While I promise to try to be funnier without being so caustic (except when it comes to Bendis), I figure some of our favorite Marvel and DC heroes and villains are also hoping to make some positive changes in their lives too.

With that in mind, here are our thoughts on what some of those New Year’s resolutions may look like:

Spider-Man: I resolve to find true love. I really think it’s time that I settle down, find a wife, and get into a solid domestic relationship. That’s the one thing in my life that seems to be missing. Seriously. Like, it was there and then it wasn’t. Weird, huh?

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.

Hulk: I resolve to be a better father. Kids learn from example. I can’t be leaping all over creation smashing stuff and speaking in broken English. What kind of precedent does that set for my little Skaar? Less mindless violence and more dedication to the arts, that’s my goal. Maybe I’ll even take up yoga.

Aquaman: I resolve to…hello? Is anyone listening to me? HELLO?!? Stupid fish aren’t even paying attention anymore.

Punisher: I resolve to only kill people who deserve it. And by “deserve it,” I mean “does something that falls within my broad and ever-changing definition of evil…from kiddie porn to jaywalking, on any given day.” Honestly, that guy driving that Miata the other day? He was just asking to be blown up into tiny pieces with a bazooka and about a half-dozen other high-explosive armaments. Should whack his family too. What kind of person drives a Miata?

Luke Cage: I resolve to never join a group called the Dark Avengers. Kinda sends the wrong message, ya know? Sweet Christmas!

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.

Iron Man: I resolve to start drinking again. Can you blame me?

Blue Beetle: I resolve to stay relevant regardless of losing my solo series and becoming a quasi-legacy to a character who was never all that fabulous to begin with. But hey, as long as I keep making appearances on a keen new Batman cartoon, everyone will love me! I mean, look at the headliners I’m appearing with…Plastic Man, Red Tornado, uh…Aquaman? Damn it. I’m screwed.

Madrox: I resolve to stop sending doubles in to deal with the crying baby. It’s not fair to them and it doesn’t really teach me anything. Although, on the bright side, at least I’m not the one who has to put up with all the screaming and crying. Considering half the kid’s genes are from Siryn, that’s probably a safe thing.

All-Star Batman: I resolve to stop talking like a goddamn retard.

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too…ah, crap.

Dr. Strange: I resolve to be the central character in a Bendis crossover this year, meaning I also resolve to act horribly out of character as long as that advances the plot, no matter how nonsensical that may be.

Cyclops: Now that my current honey, Emma Frost, looks to be going evil again, I resolve to find another skank to bring home to my bedroom. I wonder what Selene, the Black Queen, is up to. Jean would be so proud.

Wolverine: I resolve to only appear in fifteen books a month. Wouldn’t want to become overexposed.

Thor: Verily, I doth resolveth to speaketh in English most plain, so as not to confuseth those who doth find themselves arrayed around me.

Hercules: Verily, I doth resolveth….hey Odinson! Getith thine own resolution. Fine. I doth resolve to ne’er move from the fine publication in which I currently reside. It is mine now Hulk, you poor excuse for a hero! You shall ne’er move me from it!

She-Hulk: I doth resolve…sorry. It’s contagious. I resolve to get my own title again. I wonder who can relaunch me this time? Maybe I’ll give Byrne a call….it’s not like he’s doing anything important right now.

Sub-Mariner: I resolve to enter rehab this year. I mean, have you seen me lately? I look worse than Tony Stark did after a three month bender!

Dr. Light (female): I resolve to turn back the clock on my personality and act like I did in 1986 again. It may not make sense to anyone else, but there’s a reason I’m ignoring the last 20 years of my life and acting in this manner. Honest.

Obsidian: I resolve to go back to the JSA and fade into the woodwork again, since the only title to explore my character is now, <sigh>, cancelled.

Scarlet Witch: I resolve to return to comics to say what I should have said in 2005: “No more Bendis.”


One-Shot: The Vamp

Dec-03-08

Wow, John made the major mistake of opening the whole “lame villains killed by Scourge” can of worms that I am more than willing to exploit. I LOVED the Scourge storyline if only for the fact that I also LOVE horrible D-grade villains. That being said, even I have absolutely no clue who this character is.

From the brief and utterly confusing info I gleaned off the internet, this chicky-poo can turn into a giant, squishy pink blob man with crazy brain powers called the Animus. Conversely, she also wore a belt supplied by SHIELD that enabled her to duplicate the powers of another nearby person…like a low-rent version of DC’s Vixen. I have no idea why anyone at Marvel thought that those two power sets made sense together. She was a double agent for SHIELD and The Corporation (who had genetically given her the Animus-swapping ability…but controlled it remotely without her input). That’s probably kind of awkward at office parties.

In addition to my previous ignorance, I also have no idea what her name or her costume had to do with anything.

Now here’s where it gets weird (he says with tongue planted firmly in cheek). There’s something about a fight with Captain America and Hulk and a crystal club (wha???) being smashed which held Animus’s psionic abilities. Vamp goes in a coma for some reason. Off-panel, she recovers, spends time in jail, and then shows up at a bar with a bunch of other low-rent baddies who get mowed down in a hail of glorious double-Uzi fire by Scourge. But that’s not the end of the story! See, Arnim Zola (good ol’ “camera for a head and face for a torso” guy) collects her remains and clones her to use as a pawn in committing crimes and collecting money for more science experiments involving attaching appliances to body parts or something. Then Deadpool, of all people, shows up and destroys the clones and the remains and any semblance of comprehension.

The slate is now clean. It’s all up to you, John. How do you revamp the Vamp?

The initial concept of the Vamp (which Jason sort of missed) was actually rather smart.  On the one hand, you have the Vamp, a pretty enough woman with a belt that gave her special powers.  She worked for SHIELD and was a hero.  On the other hand, you have the Animus, a huge, hulking man, with psionic powers and a psionic club, who worked for the Corporation and smashed heroes.  What no one suspected was that these two beings were the same person, because they looked nothing alike (even being different genders) and had powers that were completely different.  She/he was the perfect double agent!  Honestly, my only problem with this concept was that Marvel didn’t take her far enough; I would have decided that neither SHIELD or the Corporation knew about the other identity, and had her play both sides against each other, rather than being a loyal agent of the Corporation.

Of course, that’s all ancient history.  I imagine that many heroes now know that Vamp and the Animus are one and the same, if only because the character is so completely different and off the wall that she/he must be regular conversation at superhero get togethers (“Hey, did I tell you about this chick, the Vamp, that I fought?  She could turn into a man, man!”).  Sure, we could stick her in some new hero’s book (perhaps she could confound the Sentry or something) and do the double agent plot, but that seems like it would be treading old ground, and who wants that?  No, I think we need to go in a new direction with the Vamp.  That might be best accomplished by focusing on the Animus.

Arnim Zola, as we stated, had been cloning villains, and he cloned the Vamp.  Said clone was destroyed.  But perhaps that wasn’t the only clone that Zola created?  I mean, the Vamp’s powers were pretty unique (I can’t think of another hero or villain who can switch genders and powers so completely like that) and Zola would have no doubt enjoyed examining that further.  So, while Vamp’s body was being destroyed by Deadpool, there was another clone, at another location, that was being subjected to various tests by Zola.  When Deadpool destroyed the other bodies, it caused a neural feedback loop in the surviving Vamp body as well, knocking it unconscious while also locking the body into it’s current state.  Unfortunately, at the instant of the Vamp’s death, the second clone had been in its Animus state, and it is this form in which the Vamp is now stuck!

Let’s be clear here; the Animus is considered a man, but he’s really a walking monstrosity, uglier than the Hulk and about 7′ tall.  The formerly buxom and somewhat pretty Vamp is now stuck in this form, and she’s not happy about it.  For a short while, she goes on a rampage (and we see this in the book of the hero who must stop that rampage), basically lashing out at everyone and everything around her.  A hero is called, there’s a fight, and the hero manages to drive away the Animus, but not capture him.  Afterward (and off panel) the Animus begins to think.  He’s calmed down a lot, but he’s still faced with a dilemma; he’s a woman stuck in a man’s body, and a really ugly man at that.  What to do?

From here we feature the Animus as a recurring villain in the same hero’s book, but this is a smarter Animus, one that’s planning.  At first, he’s behind the scenes, and we don’t know who he is.  The reveal that our master plotter from the past several issues is the Animus should be a big one, since the last time the readers saw him, he was raging at all around him, and seemed a mindless brute.  Only now do the readers realize that there is more to him than a sub-rate Hulk clone.  Animus first commits a few simple robberies for money, careful to not be caught (perhaps we saw these robberies as epilogues in previous issues, with the culprit off panel the entire time).  Once he had some money, he assembled a gang, and had them execute his wishes.  The Animus’ plan is to find someone who can reverse the effects, and allows him to change back into his female form again.  He just wants to make sure he has the money to provide this scientific genius with a fully equipped lab once he captures them.

Who is the genius?  Someone the hero is familiar with would be ideal, or perhaps even the hero themselves, if they’re scientifically inclined.  Is the scientist able to find a way to return the Animus to his Vamp form?  Perhaps, although if they do it the first time, it kills the ability to bring the Animus back.  I believe the Animus could be a useful villain in the Marvel Universe, and one with a very clear goal.  Heck, he could even eventually join the Thunderbolts, if he was promised a cure by the government.  There’s potential here, and I’d love to work this character back into the Marvel Universe.


Wolverine, Part 2: Mutant Boogaloo

Nov-13-08

Okay, John and I have established what seems to be a rather easy and understandable way to reduce Wolverine’s ridiculously overblown powers. This reduction (and temporary loss) of powers will instill some emotion into Wolverine, and will allow him to show the slight weakness and trepidation necessary for a believable and long-lasting hero.

However, while we’ve managed to clear up the physical part of what has caused Wolverine to be a bit much, we still haven’t really rectified the historical parts of the character. His origin has been established, but all the other little bits thrown in make his entire backstory a royal mess. And it seems like every writer, who has worked on either his solo title or one of the team books he regularly appears in, wants to throw their own two cents into the pot. I’m not really sure if there’s anything we can do to sweep up the mess, but it’s worth talking about.

Then there’s the subject of rogues galleries and supporting casts. I think we should at least briefly discuss his tenure with the X-Men and how they’ve affected his life. Then we can discuss the implications for his solo title. This would also cover the fact that he’s extremely overused in the Marvel Universe (that’s the bad kind of extreme, not the cool XTREME!) and something needs to be done to fix that too.

So, let’s begin. Here’s my opening statement: Wolverine. What’s up with that?

I consider myself to be a pretty obsessive comics geek, and I have an amazing knowledge of the histories of the major characters from many comics universes….and I’m sure I couldn’t actually recite much of Wolverine’s origin without missing or confusing entire chunks of it. He was originally created as a man with a mysterious past, which worked perfectly for his personality as the tough, silent loner. Unfortunately, it seems subsequent writers have taken this nebulous past as a challenge to fill it with tales, some of which contradict each other. Matters are made worse by the fact that Wolverine’s healing factor is now said to slow his aging, giving him a much longer lifespan than normal; this gives writers even more undocumented time to fill with unimportant, trite stories.

Some writers, when confronted with this sea of mismatched facts for a character, will go out of their way to explain the discrepancies. Heck, that’s been happening since the 1970s, when Steve Englehart used his Celestial Madonna saga in The Avengers to explain some of the discrepancies in the Vision and the original Human Torch’s origins, as well as other bits of continuity. Kurt Busiek (with some help from Roger Stern) did the same thing in the Avengers Forever limited series; that was basically twelve issues of continuity explanations. John Byrne does this sort of thing all the time, perhaps most notable in his Wonder Woman run. Now, I have respect for all of the creators I just named, but I have to say, I don’t agree with that theory. Yes, we could come up with some sort of long, detailed explanation for how Wolverine’s origin actually fits together, and publish it as a special one-shot or a limited series (since, God knows, Wolverine doesn’t star in enough books). However, I think the better way to go is to just start ignoring it. Do a quick and pared down origin for Wolverine, run it as a quick flashback in the first issue of your run, and just move on. I find that stories that attempt to explain continuity fail in two ways: first, they tend to be very heavy on exposition, and consequently, they tend to be a little boring; and second, they are completely impenetrable to the casual reader. Cynics may say comics no longer have casual readers, and they’re probably right, but I see no reason to try and exclude any few that wander into the hobby.

I think the down and dirty origin just needs to hit a few highlights: Born James Howlett in the 1800s, he was the son of rich plantation owners. He left the plantation and took the name Logan. He eventually joins the Canadian military and then moves to Madripoor for a time. He then becomes a mercenary until he rejoins the Canadian military as a member of Team X. He’s kidnapped, has his bones laced with adamantium, and is rescued by the Hudsons, who convince him to join Alpha Flight. He skips out on them to join the X-Men. That’s a concise origin that hits all the high points, and it isn’t needlessly convoluted. It’s long, but he’s over a hundred years old (can I say how stupid I think that idea is? I think he works much better if he’s no older than 60) so he’s going to have a lot on his resume.

Does that work for you?

Your precision is commendable. I agree that the concept of Wolverine being centuries-old is not only laughable, but highly unrelatable. You make a lot of sense with the “ignore it” approach though. Most of the dumb stories related over the years about the character have no real bearing on who he is anyway. They were jsut a way for the writer to feel like he contributed something. But…

What if a lot of those stories were just flat-out untrue? What if Wolverine was just one of those guys, like a goofy uncle or an insecure schoolboy, who made up tall tales to both impress and confuse people? Granted, it’s pretty easy to confirm the points that you’ve made in your concise summary of his origin, but all the other little things could either be lies or just things that he thinks he’s remembering…either to repress the true memories that are too painful or maybe they were planted there by the Weapon X folks to block out his real past.

Probably a bit convoluted, but it would reveal a lot if we discovered that Wolverine was a big, fat liar.

Sure, he’s older than he looks. He has ties to Captain America and Nick Fury. And he married some chick in Japan. But some of his solo stories have been told with no supporting evidence…just Wolverine out on his own, doing what he does best, with no one to confirm or deny the exploits. What if he never actually fought Hulk in his first appearance? What if someone tracked down a few of these villains he says he’s faced and they don’t even know who he is? What if the whole Patch thing was just a fever dream?

That would be kind of funny.

And sad.

Anyway, I agree that most of that junk need never see the light of day again. Good comic readers should be able to block that garbage out (if they haven’t already). Funny aside: Earlier today I was reading a post over on Topless Robot about the awful stories in the Spider-Man Clone Saga. And I don’t remember any of them! I’m soooooo glad my brain was able to delete those from the IQ files.

So, with his history satisfyingly ignored, we should move on to Wolverine’s friends and enemies. You’ve already briefly mentioned the Alpha Flight and Department H folks who rescued Wolverine from obscurity. How did he happen upon the X-Men though? Aside from the movie version, I don’t remember that part of the story. Let’s talk a bit about the various members of the X-Men and how he interacts with them. We all know about the on-again off-again love triangle with Jean Grey and Cyclops. Then there’s the quasi-mentor relationship he had with Jubilee. What else though? How is he perceived overall by the X-Men family? Other mutants? Other heroes in the Marvel Universe?

One quick point to make on his origin. You mentioned the idea that some of those stories detailing his past were implanted memories, or tall tales that Logan has spun. I originally had considered trying to explain away some of his backstory, since I dislike so much of it, and return him to a simpler character. Unfortunately, much of what I came up with didn’t make him simpler, but just more convoluted. Still, I had one idea that I kind of liked….

What if the story of James Hewlett is all true….but he wasn’t Wolverine? The oldest stories in Wolverine’s origin are the hardest to confirm, and some of what happened to Hewlett may be true, but in actuality, Hewlett lived his own life for years, until meeting Wolverine in the 1930s, when Wolverine would have been very young (say late teens at the most) and Hewlett was old. Hewlett told Wolverine tales of his life, and Wolverine basically assumed his identity when Hewlett died. You could work this into your idea that Wolverine is a big fat liar, and I do think it makes the character more interesting. However, besides making that stupid Origin miniseries completely pointless, I can’t ever see it flying with Marvel brass. Too bad.

As for Wolverine and the X-Men, he joined them because Xavier recruited him to go rescue his original students from Krakoa. I don’t believe they had ever met before, but that’s where he enters the mythology. Originally, they said that he left Alpha Flight for the X-Men because he was bored, but later on it was revealed he was in love with Heather Hudson and didn’t want that to come between him and her husband (the first time he fell in love with the wife of the team leader; he really is rather a creepy old guy, isn’t he?).

As for how he fits into the X-Men family, I’m not sure at present. For years he was the rowdy, almost psychotic scrapper and he was close to all of the new X-Men who joined up to fight Krakoa. He had a bond with Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Banshee and the five of them were pretty tight. He was very much disliked by Iceman and Angel, and the enmity with Angel, at the very least, lasted for at least ten or fifteen years. By the time the new X-Men team began to split up and new members began to arrive, Wolverine had become such a popular character that everyone seemed to like him. New members rarely treated him like a crazy man who could fly into berserker rages, and indeed, that rarely happened anymore anyway. Even Kitty Pryde, when she first appeared, seemed more frightened of Nightcrawler than she was of Wolverine. I’ll admit that Nightcrawler looks odd, but he’s almost always drawn as blue, fuzzy and kind of cute. Wolverine is a short, hairy, cigar smoking, brusque terror, and I think he’d be a heck of a lot more scary to a young girl than someone who looks like an animated stuffed animal.

In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to stop and mention how the insistence at Marvel of pairing Wolverine up with young girls (first Shadowcat and then Jubilee) is the wrong move for the character. I understand that they’re trying to portray Wolverine as the gruff uncle with the heart of gold, but honestly, he should simply be the gruff uncle. When Wolverine first appeared, he was a scary, violent little man with razor sharp claws. He had enough trouble associating with the adults on the team, never mind the teenagers. However, as he became more popular, his persona softened. He rarely lost his temper (unless it was integral to the plot). He became more friendly and spent time with the rest of the team. And he became the mentor to every other young girl to be recruited. Personally, I think they should have kept him standoffish, particularly to the younger members. Sure, let him bond with some of the other adults, but don’t make him a den mother. First of all, I still find it hard to believe that young girls wouldn’t be scared half to death by him. Second, he’s the quintessential loner; it’s hard enough to sell that when he belongs to two of the largest teams in the Marvel Universe. It becomes an impossible concept to convey when he’s got sidekicks.

And along those lines, the enmity he had with Iceman and Angel has also disappeared over the years. To an extent, that’s fine; these guys have to work together, and more importantly, watch each other’s backs in life and death situations. It’s natural that they would bond over the years. Still, Wolverine has one of the most grating personalities in the Marvel Universe. Surely there are going to be some mutants who really aren’t fond of him. He should have personality conflicts with at least some of the members of the X-Men, and unless I’m wrong, he doesn’t. I’d like to see him very close to a few of his fellow mutants (perhaps Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and Banshee, since they all started together), be on speaking terms, but little else, with the majority of them, and have a few that he simply rubs the wrong way. Your take?

Oooh…what if James Howlett was the guy who originally started Weapon X (or whatever that program is called now)? In fact, what if it was something he did in response to the Nazi buildup…like the Canadian version of the Super Soldier formula, but much more clandestine. After all the torture and abuse, all Wolverine can remember are the tales that Howlett told him and he’s able to use those as a backstory when he eventually escapes from captivity. I don’t know if you follow Mad Men at all, but the main character in that show had a somewhat similar situation. He was stationed in a remote area of Korea when their encampment was struck by mortar fire. The blast killed his commanding officer, burning him so badly that he was unrecognizable. The main character had an awful childhood, so he saw this as his opportunity to change things. He switched dog tags with his commanding officer and started a new life when he got stateside.

Now that I’ve ruined a major plot point for one of TV’s greatest shows, let’s get back to Wolverine.

I think there’s reason to assume this could be possible. And it sets Wolverine up as more of a sympathetic character…he has that one dark secret that he’s trying desperately to hide from the rest of the world. He’s ashamed of the “easy path” he’s taken to try to get his life back. It’s a little convoluted, but what isn’t in the X-world?

Anyway, back to the friends thing. I never really thought about Wolverine’s relationships with all the young girls on the team. On paper, it sounds pretty creepy. And it does diminish the “bad boy” quality of the character. In the books though, it comes across like one of those cartoons where the little dog is trying to make friends with the big dog who barely acknowledges his existence. The girls see a father figure that may be able to protect them and teach them. Wolverine sees another person that he has to keep out of trouble for the sake of the team. It’s a weird parasitic relationship and comics seem to thrive on that kind of melodrama.

In reality, I agree with your bigger point. These girls would be reluctant to get close to the brute of the team. And he wouldn’t pay any attention to them at all, most likely sneering whenever they insist on tagging along on an adventure. Better yet, he’d probably roar that they didn’t belong in action at all. It’s like how the popular clique thinks that they’re the only people in the school. Just a natural pecking order.

However, we can’t dismiss the friendships that he has made. It would be odd to have him do a 180 now. So we have to deal with the Kitty Prydes and the Jubilees. Neither of them is particularly close to him right now, so it’s easy to just let those ties fade away. I do like your idea of having the mutants almost segregated by team…where Wolverine associates only with the “new” X-Men while the original team keeps him at arm’s length or just flat-out distrusts him. And the new recruits hold him in awe while he chooses to ignore them.

I’d like to see him fly off the handle a bit more too. The berserker rages have all but disappeared. The half-cocked, male pride angle has been abandoned. I’d like to see Wolverine acting a bit less rational and more spontaneous. And that whole “had a Japanese bride and a kid” thing has to just go away. Seriously.

That sort of brings us to the rogues gallery (because the only Wolverine enemy I can think of is Silver Samurai). Is there anything to go on here? Does The Hand count as an enemy? Can he claim any of the X-Men’s enemies as his own? I’m so tired of Sabretooth that I don’t even really want to talk about him. All I know is that Marvel’s editorial team thought that Wolverine was going to fade away quickly, but Chris Claremont liked the idea of a feral warrior so he created Sabretooth as an enemy of Iron Fist in that character’s solo title. Sabretooth is basically a blond, slightly taller Logan. Lame.

I like the idea of Hewlett being someone whose identity Wolverine took. I think it would add some mystery and danger back to the character, who’s a lot less impressive when you see him as the James Hewlett depicted in Origins. I also think it drops the character a little more back into the realm of the relatable, since he’s not been around for 150 years anymore.

As to your other point, I agree that Wolverine’s Rogues Gallery is laughable. Sabretooth is indeed his biggest foe, but considering that Sabretooth is almost as overused as Wolverine, he’s not a good foe. I had forgotten about the Silver Samurai, but isn’t he a good guy now? Even if he isn’t, I’m not thrilled with Wolverine’s staunchest foe being someone with an Asian background, as I’d like to move the character out of that region of the world and back to his homeland of Canada. I would count the Hand as an enemy, but not a particularly interesting one. They exist only so he can slice and dice any number of their operatives, and there will still be more waiting in the wings.

I believe that you could consider the Wendigo to be part of his Rogues Gallery, and that’s suitably Canadian, but the Wendigo is a dull foe, and not nearly smart enough to present an interesting threat for more than an issue or two. Wasn’t Cyber considered a Wolverine foe? He never seemed to have much going for him, except for the fact that he looked neat when Sam Keith drew him. Yeesh, that is one pathetic roster of baddies; it makes Superman’s Rogues Gallery of bald scientists and wacky inter-dimensional imps look pretty good.

I believe that Sabretooth was intended to be Wolverine’s opposite number (actually, rumor has it he was intended to be Wolverine’s father when first introduced, which could have been more interesting), but I’m not a big fan of opposite numbers as archenemies. I don’t find Venom vs Spider-Man to be an interesting match-up. I much prefer when opposites clash, and in this instance, I think that Wolverine needs to face off against a patient, calculating, schemer. He doesn’t need to be a Lex Luthor type, with no powers but great scientific know-how. He can be quite powerful in his own right, but he needs to be the type who doesn’t rattle or get upset. He needs to be able to make long range plans and he needs to be able to change them as circumstances warrant. This would put him at odds with Wolverine’s berserker rages and notorious temper.

I’d also like to add a villain from the general Marvel Rogues Gallery: Viper. She has worked with Silver Samurai, and the two of them clashed with Wolverine in the past. I think she’s perfect against Wolverine as she has some of the espionage background that mirrors Wolverine’s own background in that field, and she also is a fierce and savage opponent, just as Wolverine is. If the Samurai has not reformed and can fight with her against Wolverine, they’d be a perfect team.

Dragging X-Foes into Wolverine’s Rogues Gallery could be tricky. Sure, he has reason to hate Magneto and Apocalypse, who have both wronged him severely, but they’re not really the sort to fixate on one mutant. Perhaps it would be better to use one of the lesser known, and lesser used, X-Villains. Personally, I’d grab one or two of the Marauders and flesh them out in the pages of Wolverine. Most of them never really got personalities under Claremont’s pen when they were first created, and a lot of work could be done on them if they were given space to breathe in Wolverine’s solo title. Wolverine could probably lay claim to Donald Pierce, Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers as his own villains, but unfortunately, none of them are very interesting.

Ugh. His villains are a sad state of affairs. Any ideas on your end?

I was thinking along the same lines as you. Never been a fan of those “same but different” match-ups. I think that’s why I generally get bored with primary arch-enemies anyway. They start out as strong foils for the heroes, but over the course of time both the hero and the villain get tweaked until they’re basically mirror images of each other. I mean, Lex Luthor spent some time in that armor of his in an attempt to go toe-to-toe with Superman…Red Skull has been pumped up until he’s basically Cap without the shield…even Green Goblin’s powers were increased to better coincide with Spider-Man’s. I would much rather see a fight between folks who take different approaches, have different strengths and weaknesses and are able to employ tactics that may confuse or distract.

Unfortunately, Wolverine’s foes are a bunch of weak reflections of him. Like I said, Sabretooth is basically Logan with a mullet and some lifts. Lady Deathstrike is Logan with boobs. Cyber quickly became Wolverine’s indestructible brawling counterpart. Viper may not be a bad idea…she’s someone who has resources and can throw some bodies at Wolvie. And she plays in the same dark corners as Logan.

The perfect villain for Wolverine to face off against would be someone who is very intelligent, has a unique power set and doesn’t get rattled easily. We need a Zen counterpart to Wolverine’s berserker. This may sound like a crazy idea, but what about Vanisher? He’s constantly getting himself involved in some of the more back-alley crimes that land in Wolverine’s wheelhouse…associating with drug cartels, thieves and smugglers. Vanisher is a smart guy and his powers would confound Wolverine. Could be a fun way to bring one of the X-Men’s oldest foes up to a more worthy level.

Of course, we’ve talked about Grey Gargoyle too. He may not be a long term opponent, but he would definitely inflict some damage on Wolverine that would be felt for a long time. I could even see them facing off against each other after we’ve diminished Wolvie’s powers…right up until we kill off Gargoyle. And some interesting things could spring out of that as well. I’m not a huge fan of legacy villains, but maybe Gargoyle has a child or family member who would pick up the mantle? Are there any long-time associates of his that may seek revenge on Wolvie? We could push Wolverine off into his own mythos, his own corner of the Marvel Universe. Granted, some new villains will need to be created at some time, but if Wolverine is that old (even if our new origin is able to shave off a century or so) he should have some interaction with some of the older villains in the Marvel Universe.

Those are my first thoughts. Follow up?

Not much to follow up with, as I like your ideas. I agree that the Vanisher has a lot of potential, potential which Marvel is just now beginning to explore. He’s a smart guy, and he’s a planner, which makes him perfect against Wolverine. The Vanisher has to be a planner, as he’s basically useless in a fight, although his teleporting ability could be used to some effect in a brawl (I think the only time I’ve ever seen that happen is when he took on the original five X-Men way back in his first appearance in X-Men #2. Basically, it’s a question of getting your foes to use their powers against each other by teleporting in and out among them). I think he should definitely be added to the Rogues Gallery.

With Vanisher, Grey Gargoyle (and making him a legacy would be fine; Marvel is able to do that with their villains, even if they can’t with their heroes), Viper, and possibly the Silver Samurai, we’re slowly building up a small group of foes for him. I’d still advocate taking a few of the Marauders and using them against him. I’d choose a duo, Scalphunter and Arclight. Arclight had a romantic interest in Scalphunter, so perhaps she’s working with him as a way to try and make something happen. They both have a history as members of the military and/or special forces teams, so perhaps they met Wolverine sometime in the past and have some sort of specific issue with him. They’re also both tough characters who can go toe to toe with Wolverine for a nice big slugfest, in ways that none of our other villains (except the Gargoyle) really can. That gives us seven new villains for him (even if some of them work in teams) and I like that.

Hmmm. That gives us history, allies and enemies. Have we finished dissecting and rebuilding Marvel’s most overused character?

Aside from shaving his back and putting him on a Nicorette regimen, we’ve done all we can.

I like it.

Now if only Marvel would take the hint…


What Candy Would Your Favorite Superhero Hand Out?

Oct-31-08

So I took my boys trick-or-treating last night and was pretty amazed at the bizarre range of “treats” they ended up hauling in…things like a bag of Doritos, a tube of Go-Gurt and a pack of those Nip-Chee crackers you get out of vending machines. I thought it would be funny to imagine what the superheroes would hand out if they were part of the neighborhood. I’ll throw out my thoughts and then see if John has anything to add…

Superman: Obviously, he’d be handing out Clark bars (and absolutely no one would see the connection).

Silver Surfer: For a shiny dude who has traveled the entire galaxy, could there be a better treat than a Milky Way bar?

Mister Fantastic: I’m guessing he left a bowl outside the Baxter Building filled with gummi bears, bubble gum and salt water taffy.

Captain America: There’s no way Mr. Straight-Laced would be handing out candy. No, his immaculately decorated house would be the one mercilessly TP’ed after he offered up apples and toothbrushes…or worse, savings bonds.

Hulk: Jawbreakers.

Iron Man: I’m guessing there’s a hefty collection of those airline-sized bottles of liquor clogging up a closet somewhere on the Stark compound.

Hawkman: Cans of Red Bull. It gives you wings!

Thor: Skittles, in memory of the gateway to his homeland, the Rainbow Bridge.

The Joker: Aside from the obvious, like gumdrops laced with poison or brownies filled with razor blades, I think he might go for something subtle…like Snickers. Get it? Snickers?? ‘Cause he laughs a lot?

The Blob: Empty Chunky bar wrappers…because, well, y’know…

Martian Manhunter: He’d give out Oreos, until the legal department caught up with him, when he’d switch to Chocos.

Human Torch: He’d be too busy running around with the Thing playing tricks on everyone, but I’m sure he’d leave a bowl of Hot Tamales next to Reed’s candy.

The Thing: His bowl next to the Torch’s would have pieces of rock candy.

Dr. Doom: I bet trick or treating is a lot of fun in Latveria. “Who dares TP Doom’s castle? Is that you Richards? Curse you and your automatic egg thrower! I swear on the soul of my dead mother, Doom shall lay flaming poop on the front stoop of the Baxter Building!” In any case, I imagine his gives out gummi Reed Richards, filled with a strawberry jelly, so his subjects can actually have the pleasure of ripping the accursed Richards apart and feasting on his entrails.

The Wasp: I think she gives out fashion tips. “Dear, I don’t care if you are dressing up as a ghost, that plain white sheet is booooring. Wait right there and I’ll be back with something to spruce it up!”

Dr. Pym: He gives out miniature candy bars.

Mr. Miracle: Rubik’s cubes and Chinese finger traps.

The Spectre: He gives out unholy vengeance to all those who dare to play tricks. “I saw you TPing that house! I shall now transport you to a dimension where you are made of toilet paper and the John Goodman Impersonation Society has just finished eating at a Mexican buffet!”

Got any more?

Aww…wouldn’t Wasp hand out Bit O’Honeys? And Mars bars for J’onn J’onnz (he’d keep all the Chocos for himself)?

Green Goblin: He’d have a satchel full of those little pumpkin-shaped candies, the only problem being that he’d be throwing them at everyone and cackling madly. Oh…and they might explode.

Wolverine: Candy cigarettes (if the Marvel editors will allow it).

Skrull Kill Krew: Cow Tails.

Mr. Mind: Anything but gummi worms.



Superhorrors: When Capes and Killings Clash

Oct-29-08

So, Jason and I have been discussing bringing horror into your superhero comics, and how it can be done successfully. We thought we’d take some time to examine some heroes and teams in the multiverse of comics that we think lend themselves particularly well to the horror genre. I’m going to just mention five that I think would work well, although to be honest, I think just about any character that is not simply used for comedic effect can work in a horror comic. I’m not sure I’d write the Ambush Bug Halloween Special, although that could be very amusing. Still, it’s not hitting quite the effect that we were hoping for.

I’m not going to be focusing on characters like Ghost Rider and Deadman since it’s pretty obvious that they work well in horror comics. I’m also not going to be suggesting an entire series based around horror for these characters: I’m not suggesting a new Spider-Man book called Spidey Horror Stories or anything. I’m just going to spotlight some characters who could have a really good one or two issue story in their titles that is more in the horror genre and less in the superhero genre. Here we go!

Fantastic Four: At first it might not seem that this group, the brightly colored leaders of Marvel’s superhero universe, could work well in horror. Johnny and Ben are too goofy, and they’re a more happy-go-lucky team, you might believe. However, I think they’d be perfect. Right off the bat is the fact that they’re explorers, which means they find themselves in situations where horror could be found. In fact, I have a scenario already in mind.

Our Fantastic Foursome are flying through the Negative Zone, moving a small group of refugees whose homeworld was destroyed by Annihilus, when they encounter a derelict spaceship. Reed wants to investigate, and so they dock with the ship, and they begin to explore. As Reed tries to determine what happened on the ship and where the crew went, the team splits up to search for clues. Along the way they begin to discover that whatever happened was mighty unpleasant, and that the cause of the crew’s disappearance may still be lurking aboard!

The Fantastic Four have those dark blue/black uniforms, so they can be drawn in a darker art style and still look faithful to original design. The Thing, of course, works perfectly in a horror setting, since he’s a monster. The Thing and the Torch might be lighthearted at first, but they would get serious when the danger became apparent, and that helps sell the horror; if something can scare or at least unnerve these two, then it shows the audience that it must be pretty bad. If you make the threat something supernatural that helps too, since the FF tend to deal in hard science, and the supernatural will immediately throw them out of their element. The refugees give us characters who can be killed or disappear, since we obviously won’t kill the FF. The trick is not to make the danger about whether the FF will be killed, since everyone knows that won’t happen, but whether or not they can protect this group of refugees. Keep the refugees in danger and have the danger stalking them, and you’ve got actual tension. After all, the FF are the ones who decided to stop at this ship; they are truly responsible for these civilians, and are going to do whatever they can to protect them.

I think there are a lot of creative teams that could do something like this justice, but I would choose Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan. They worked together on a Superman/Aliens story that had the sort of atmosphere I’m envisioning.

Martian Manhunter: He’s dead, which makes him perfect for a horror comic! I kid. Assuming he wasn’t dead, I think J’onn J’onzz would do well in a horror story. Honestly, were I to use him in a comic, I’d use him more like the Phantom Stranger. Because of Jonn’s shapeshifting powers, he can be anyone and anything. He used to want to explore the world around him and learn more about humanity. I can envision an actual series with him traveling the world, taking on different identities and spending time with people. In many cases, he’d be more of a guest star in his own series, as we’d truly be reading the stories of other people, with J’onn more on the periphery. Not all of these stories would have to have a horror bent, but some certainly could.

For example, perhaps J’onn meets a group of people in an inn, where he stops to wait out some bad weather on his travels right around Halloween. He spends some time in the common areas meeting the guests and giving the reader a chance to learn about the other characters. Everyone retires to their rooms, but strange things are happening. J’onn assumes the suspicious activities are part of some Halloween prank, but then people start turning up missing or dead. What’s happening to them? J’onn’s a powerful hero, but his power does him no good when he doesn’t know who the bad guy is or from where the threat originates. I think JM DeMatteis would write something like this quite well, and Tom Ostrander has the sort of moody art which would be perfect!

There’s two, and I went longer than I thought. Do you think they have potential, and do you have any of your own to add?

That’s so weird. I was making a mental list in my head and the Fantastic Four was one group that I had definitely decided could never be made into a horror book. And yet, your idea is strangely compelling. Although, to be honest, it reminds me more of a Challengers of the Unknown plot with some convenient superpowers thrown in for good measure.

For me, the obvious titles/teams/characters that could be turned in a horror direction are some of the ones we’ve already mentioned and revamped: The Defenders fighting off the supernatural in a largely covert manner, a la X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Doctor Strange in pretty much any situation; and, of course, Batman when he’s fighting one of his more psychological (or just plain psycho) foes like Scarecrow or Mad Hatter. I enjoy the twisted paths those stories could go down.

However, if I wanted to pitch a completely new direction for an established character, I would pick:

Vision and Scarlet Witch: I know, it’s kind of a cop-out choosing a character with the word “witch” in her name, but bear with me. I see this as more of an urban horror story. Vision plays the role of the vengeful ghost and Wanda is the troubled street urchin trying to convert the masses to her way of thinking. She has that Old World bent to her, but the metropolitan citizens ignore her and look down upon her. Vision visits the successful city businessmen who have shunned their morals in favor of greed and expansion. He’s a creepy robot, the perfect representation of technology run amok, and he can float through their freakin’ walls! The Vision has gone rogue and is taking out his vengeance on the leaders of this new economy. It’s up to Scarlet Witch to find a way to soothe the savage beast, as it were. I’d like to see this written by Warren Ellis, someone who knows a thing or two about current tech but also has a foothold in the paganistic side of things too. And the artwork needs to be done by someone who has a realistic and detailed style…maybe John Cassaday? Or Tim Sale?

Hulk: Given the Jekyll and Hyde background of the character, this is probably a bit of a cheat. At the same time, the Hulk has always been more about the anger and rage of being a monster than of the dark guilt and isolation of being a man with a troubling, uncontrollable secret. Bruce Banner has removed himself to a secluded village somewhere in South America, in the windy valleys of the Andes. He’s set himself up as the town doctor, attending to the elderly residents and the children of the village. But not is all as it seems. In fact, he learns that a lot of the injuries he’s trying to heal have been caused by some mysterious beast that haunts the fields at night. A strong-willed policewoman from the neighboring city has been tasked to track this villain down. Unfortunately for them both, she and Bruce fall in love and he joins the cause to help her hunt…him. This book would have to be written from a first person point of view, like some of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest works, but with a modern nuance and awareness. I’d put Brian K. Vaughan up to the task. And the art style would need to be dark and muted, with the monster emerging from the shadows to claim its victims. I think Ryan Sook could pull this off well.

I think any of these stories, mine or John’s, would work well in an anthology book, similar to the recent X-Men and Avengers Fairy Tales series. Thoughts?

I really like your idea of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in horror stories, and your creative team is fine.  However, if I may suggest an alternate penciller, I’d like to throw out the name of Michael Bair.  He’s primarily known as an inker, and does a tremendous job in that capacity.  However, he has done some pencilling, and he did a short Vision story for an anthology (probably an Avengers Annual) where the Vision goes into a burning building to rescue a child.  His artwork was extremely moody and creepy (the child is afraid to go with the Vision because the Vision scares him, and a reader could certainly understand why!) and I think he might be an interesting choice.

Fantastic Four vs the Challengers of the Unknown:  honestly, aren’t they the same thing, except with superpowers and a family situation?  They’re both explorers, and you’re right, you could do the story with the Challengers, and it would be excellent.  In fact, perhaps that could be a good pitch for the next Challengers revival; something more horror related.

I do agree that any of these ideas could work if they were fleshed out.  You mention the Fairy Tales series Marvel published; why not a horror series?  Start producing it in the beginning of the year, and then release it weekly in October.  You could do two or three a year, four issues each, and if they come out once a week it could really draw in an audience, particularly at the spookiest time of the year.  You could release collected editions of them the following year 2-3 weeks before Halloween, while also releasing a new batch of weekly horror for that year.  It could be a nice marketing plan, and by the second year, you’d have single issues of horror for the comics shop crowd, and collected horror trades for the bookstore market! 


Professor X: Hero or Zero?

Oct-07-08

It certainly would be difficult to dispute that, when a character has existed for over four decades and has been written by dozens of separate scripters, it can be difficult to keep a consistent character portrayal. There are certainly times when any character may seem slightly off to long time readers, often for a variety of reasons. That being said, there may be no character in the Marvel Universe (and certainly not in the X-Universe) that has been portrayed in a more confusing fashion; sometimes Charles Xavier appears to be a decent, heroic man, and other times he seems to be a manipulative ass. Which is the real Professor X?

The trouble began as early as his third appearance. Xavier seemed to be a good man, and had created a group of mutants to safeguard humanity from evil mutants. He was teaching these teens the normal prep school curriculum, as well as training them in how to use their powers. (Some might consider this to be a morally questionable action; the Professor trained five teenagers in fighting and used them as his private army, a move he would repeat with the New Mutants some years down the road. Some people might be correct.) However, in X-Men #3 (the original series, before they became uncanny) Xavier mused at how much he loved Jean Grey, and mentioned that he would love to tell her, but he couldn’t, since he was confined to a wheelchair. Apparently, the fact that he was her teacher, close to her guardian, had known her since she was eleven, and was easily twenty years older than her did not factor into his decision not to pursue this relationship. Granted, Stan Lee, who was writing the book at the time, never mentioned the attraction again, no doubt realizing he had crossed a line that was better left uncrossed. However, it was printed, and years later other writers would pick up on it and run with it, and it’s still sometimes mentioned today.

Some years later, Xavier again showed his tendency towards cruelty. Sensing an impending attack from an alien race, Xavier decided that he was the only one who could stop it, but also decided that he would need to be isolated so he could work on his preparations without interruption. He got a reformed criminal who could make himself appear as someone else, the Changeling, to assume his place on the team. When the Changeling died in battle, Xavier knew that his students thought him dead, and were devastated by his passing (so devastated that they broke up the team). The only one who knew his secret was Jean Grey, and Xavier swore her to secrecy. It would be some years before Xavier would reveal his existence to his remaining students, which he did only so they could help repel the alien invasion for which he’d been planning. So, not only did he allow those who looked on him as a father figure to believe him dead, but he also saddled Jean with a very weighty secret and would not allow her to lessen her burden by telling anyone, even the man she loved. Not very nice.

In the last few decades, Xavier’s hasn’t stopped his morally questionable deeds. Of course, his most famous example of “Telepaths Behaving Badly” happened when he mind-wiped Magneto, who is one of his oldest friends, leaving said friend a drooling vegetable. Subsequently, Xavier started calling himself Onslaught, and became a major villain in the Marvel Universe. It would later be revealed that some of his behavior was caused by Magneto’s presence in his mind, which became rooted in his psyche when Xavier mind-wiped him, but surely Xavier must claim some of the blame for the villainous actions of Onslaught, if only because mind-wiping his oldest friend was a morally dubious action in the first place. However, the surprises awaiting the X-Men didn’t stop when their mentor and long-time leader tried to kill them; they were just as surprised when they discovered the “Xavier Protocols” which were files authored by Xavier detailing how you could kill each member of the team. This seems ridiculously over the line, putting Xavier on a par with Batman (who did something similar in the DC Universe). Is Xavier truly that ruthless and paranoid?

There are other examples of Xavier doing things that are somewhat morally ambiguous, as well as examples of him being a true hero. Which one is the true Xavier?

Aw, man…I was hoping you were going to do like you did with Jean Grey and document all the times Xavier has been killed and brought back. Or, better yet, all of the times he’s been given back the ability to walk only to become wheelchair-bound a few issues later. Good times.

I’m torn on this one, mainly because I just don’t really like Charles Xavier. I think he’s a bit of a self-serving dick masquerading as some sort of hippie cult leader. Don’t tell anyone, but I think Professor X is secretly a Republican. He’s all about control and forcing a flawed point of view. Regardless of what he publicly states, he’s blatantly for the premise of “might over right.” Why else would he train teenagers in ways that are more strenuous than the Marine Corps? The guy has an axe to grind with humanity, but he’s less genuine about it than Magneto ever was. At least you knew where that maniac stood on a daily basis (until Charles messed with his head).

The big question is: since Xavier is such an Alpha-level telepath and mind-messer, how do we know that he isn’t tweaking everyone’s will at will? He could be tricking every single person in the world every single day. Making people bend to his ideals, forcing others to comply with his way of thinking and generally making a mockery of independent thought are things Professor X could do without even getting out of bed in the morning. It’s a decidedly creepy scenario. Has Marvel ever done a What If? issue about THAT?

That would certainly be amusing, looking at the times Xavier has died and returned, although that’s become so much a cliche of the X-Men (and really, the entire Marvel and DC Universes) that it’s difficult to track all of the instances. It might be much more illuminating to chart how many times the poor man has regained the use of his legs, only to have them destroyed again, putting him back in his wheelchair (or whatever you call his personal conveyance, since he seems to eschew your normal wheelchairs, and the last few futuristic models he has had don’t even have wheels any longer). If Xavier is something of a jerk, maybe he’s just bitter that he can’t seem to walk for any length of time.

Your feelings about his powers are certainly understandable; telepaths are probably the scariest of all superhumans for exactly the reasons you’ve named. I believe that your thoughts have been echoed by certain characters in the Marvel Universe from time to time, and they’ve confronted them head on in a few issues of Ultimate X-Men, where it’s been hinted that Xavier is even more of a manipulative dick than normal. It’s interesting that in the early days of the group, Xavier’s physical condition was obviously intended to offset the incredible powers of his mind. He couldn’t go with the X-Men into battle, and although he followed along with them mentally, he was apparently limited to merely thinking at the team. In fact, his powers were so limited at that time that, when he wanted to mindwipe the Vanisher and the Blob (which he did in issues #2 and 3 of the original X-Men series, respectively), he had to be physically near them. Over the years, his powers expanded, and now he seems to be able to physically affect people no matter where they are in the world. Now, his physical handicap seems to be a pointless condition, inflicted on him merely because that’s how people know him. It’s not like they’ve ever used his inability to walk as a way to express the situations of people who actually are confined to wheelchairs on a day to day basis and it doesn’t affect his ability to be an effective superhuman. So why even bother keeping him crippled?

That being said, I must admit that I like Professor X, and I don’t think he’s as bad as recent writers want to portray him. I think that he certainly has done some questionable things, but that’s part of his character. With the power that he possesses, surely anyone would have occasional lapses into morally dubious territory. There’s a scene in the God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel (one of the best X-Men stories ever, and certainly the best of the Marvel Graphic Novel series, which had quite a few strong entries) that I think encapsulates exactly how I see Xavier. In this scene, the battle is won and the X-Men are hanging out with Magneto, who’s reminding them that they’re weak and their more peaceful method of solving problems doesn’t work. Xavier, who was kidnapped and brainwashed through this story, agrees with Magneto, saying that maybe his way really does suck. Cyclops, Storm and the other X-Folks disagree with Xavier, and seeing the support from his students is too much. Xavier breaks down in tears, thanking his students for their faith and support in him and his methods, especially when he lacked that faith in himself.

That’s the Charles Xavier that resonates with me. He’s a man with an incredible power and an incredible responsibility to use that power ethically, and to train the next generation of mutants to use their powers responsibly as well. He’s a flawed man, as we all are, but he’s doing his best. Too many times, writers want to portray him as one thing or the other; he’s either the sweet old teacher, who’s rather above reproach, or he’s the manipulative jackass, willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals. In reality, of course, rarely are people at either end of that spectrum and Xavier shouldn’t be either. I think he’s out there doing his best, and he will sometimes fall, but he’ll get back up again (perhaps a tasteless analogy, considering his physical condition, but it works on the astral plane) and continue to soldier on, doing the best he can.

I dunno. I’m rather indifferent when it comes to portraying subtlety in comics. For me, in order to prove a point or move a story forward, it’s helpful if the characters are somewhat one-dimensional. And I mean that in the best light possible. I don’t expect flat conversations and predictable battles, but I do expect Wolverine to be blunt, I expect Spider-Man to be a smart ass and I expect Captain America to stand up for what’s right. Trying to find this so-called middle ground with Xavier is off-putting. His exterior message is one of “can’t we all just get along” proportions. I’m just not sure if his motivation is backed by his tactics. No one can really say if he’s being honest or just playing everyone like a cheap one-man band.

I agree that the lack of attention to his physical handicap is disappointing. His early appearances worked hard to set up obstacles, showing him as frail but his mind as strong. Over the years, this has been forgotten and it has helped to escalate his out of control powers. The Professor X character has fallen into the same trap as Superman, Batman, Hulk and any number of additional superhero types. The 80s and 90s are predominantly to blame for this over-powering of characters, like ‘roid rage in graphic form. Everyone was so rabid for the knock-down drag-out fight scenes that creators consciously and haphazardly threw aside the built-in limitations in favor of sparks and blood. Imagine how fearful the general populace would be to live in a world of that proliferate magnitude. I would never leave my house for fear of a crushed tank or spaceship landing on my head from thousands of miles away. Hell, I’d want to sleep forever just to avoid being mind controlled or set on fire or thrown into the future from the comfort of my kitchen while trying to make a sandwich.

Seriously. They need to back off with the omniscience. Professor X is a frightening character when taken to the extreme. I’m just not sure there has been enough editorial control exerted on him over the years to justify any sort of trust.

Well, I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying, but I think we’re hitting a few different points here. Allow me to try and sort through them:

Your general comment about one-dimensional heroes is well taken, although I wouldn’t call it one-dimensional. Every character (just as every person) does possess some dominant personality traits. Spider-Man is a smart ass. Batman is grim. Wolverine is a scrapper. It’s just like in real life, when someone might say that someone is sarcastic or someone is meticulous or someone is analytical. That’s a very obvious and apparent personality trait, and I don’t think it’s one-dimensional, nor are those characters one dimensional. That’s just the personality trait most evident. Xavier is a mediator, one who is always trying to find a middle ground. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other facets to his personality, nor that they can’t be shown from time to time. Some of the most interesting Spider-Man stories have been those which show him when he stops cracking jokes, because that’s when you know something is wrong, since it happens so rarely. Along those lines, we shouldn’t see Xavier breaking down often, as he did in the scene I mentioned above, but when it does happen, it underscores the seriousness of the situation. So, in the end, I’m not seeing our positions on that point being so different.

You then mention the escalation of powers, which I agree is a poor choice, as it makes characters difficult to relate to, and also difficult to challenge effectively in combat without staging ridiculously over-the-top cosmic battles (I sometimes wonder if that’s why we encountered so many omnipotent villains in company wide crossovers, such as Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet and the Beyonder; there was no way anything less could challenge the assembled might of the heroes). However, I would caution against blaming the 80s and 90s, especially when you choose Batman and Superman as examples. Yes, those decades saw an incredible escalation, particularly at Marvel, but DC began escalating Batman and Superman to the ranks of the gods back in the 50s and 60s (they actually depowered Superman to a great degree in the 80s). However, in the end, your point is well taken; the powers many of these heroes have are still amazing things. We don’t need to make them even more powerful to instill a sense of awe. It’s the weaknesses in a character’s power that can make for interesting stories, and force writers to be more creative.

In the end, though, I think I agree with you. Professor X could have used firmer editorial guidance a few times over the years and he is scary when taken to extremes. Would I trust him? I’m not so sure; it would be difficult to ever truly trust a telepath. That being said, just because trust would come slowly, that does not mean he doesn’t deserve it.


The Tiny Titans: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Sep-12-08

In the early years of the 1960s, Marvel Comics seemed as if it could do no wrong. It’s early concepts were very popular and ushered in a new way of doing comics. These characters would go on to become icons and parts of popular culture, the members of a new mythology. These early characters included Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor…..and Ant-Man and the Wasp. Well, not every concept can be a winner. But why didn’t Ant-Man and the Wasp ever become the popular characters that the other early Marvel heroes became? What was it about them that made them perennial second stringers?

Dr. Henry Pym was introduced very early in the history of Marvel Comics, and is one of their earliest heroes. A scientist, he develops a way to shrink to the size of an ant, and after his wife is captured and then killed by Communists (ah, early Marvel, where Communists were the go-to villains) he uses this method to fight crime. He fights crime on his own for some time, using his amazing ability to grow smaller and control ants to thwart the plans of evil doers and was given his own series of stories in Tales to Astonish, where he became the cover featured hero. However, while he may have been featured on the cover, it seems Marvel felt that he was missing something. That something was apparently a partner, and soon Marvel introduced the Wasp to join Ant-Man on his adventures.

Janet Van Dyne was the daughter of a wealthy scientist. Her father had befriended Pym, and when her father was killed by creatures from another dimension, Van Dyne turned to Pym for support. Pym offered to share his powers with her, and she agreed. She gained the ability to shrink to ant-size as well, but unlike Pym, she could fly on her own, and had “wasp’s stings” which she could use to attack her foes. The two became partners, but more, they became romantically involved, although never as romantically involved as the Wasp would have liked. Pym kept her at a certain distance, as he was initially not over the death of his first wife, and then because he was a somewhat introverted, dedicated scientist who had more important things to consider rather than romance. Of course, the real reason he kept her at a distance was because Marvel, in those days, very much enjoyed the storytelling device of having two characters in love with each other, but not able to reveal their feelings (and if you think that this storytelling device would get a little tired when used in ten different comic titles each month, you’d be very correct).

Over the years, these two characters would undergo numerous changes. They would get married, get divorced, and then date on and off over the years. Pym would soon change his super-hero identity from Ant-Man to Giant-Man to Goliath to Yellowjacket to Dr. Pym the Scientific Adventurer and then switch back and forth between them. The Wasp would go from a flighty socialite more interested in men than in catching bad guys to the chairman of the Avengers for years to an oddly mutated wasp creature, and back to human. There would be new people to claim the mantle of the Ant-Man, other heroes who would call themselves Giant-Man and Goliath, and villains who would take the identity of Yellowjacket (surprisingly, no one else would try to call themselves Dr. Pym, the Scientific Adventurer). These characters still exist, 45 years after their creation, but they always seem to be at the periphery of the Marvel Universe; never able to crack into the mainstream media the way so many of their contemporaries have.

Why? All of the ingredients exist within these two that are within the other Marvel heroes that have graduated to the popular consciousness. As mentioned, there was the unrequited love that Marvel enjoyed so much (were there any happy couples at Marvel in the 60s? Even Reed and Susan Richards started out as engaged, and had to contend with Sue’s infatuation with the Sub-Mariner during their early years). There was the tragic origins, with the loss of loved ones, which seem to populate the origins of most Marvel heroes (Spidey lost his uncle, Daredevil lost his father, Captain America lost his partner, the Hulk lost his ability to wear a 32 inch waist). Some would say that they were underpowered and Ant-Man was too weak to make it in the big leagues, but those leagues were a lot smaller than we think. Early Marvel heroes were much weaker than modern heroes. The Human Torch couldn’t flame on for more than a few minutes at a time. The Thing was only half as strong as he is today, and not as invulnerable. The early X-Men were a very weak team…Jean Grey’s telekinesis enabled her to thread needles and move small logs over holes, the Beast was just a little stronger than a normal man, Iceman looked like Frosty the Snowman and the Angel could…well, just fly. That’s it. Besides, even if Ant-Man may have looked a little weak in the Avengers, alongside Thor and Iron Man, over at DC, the Atom was doing just fine in the Justice League and the Atom couldn’t even talk to ants!

So, why do you think these characters haven’t been able to attain a stronger fan base? And do they have potential today?

Wow. That was a very well written introduction. As I was reading it, I kept coming up with arguments in my head but then you would diffuse them in the very next paragraph. First I thought, perhaps their popularity waned because they were older, age-wise, than most Marvel heroes…but then you brought up the Fantastic Four. Then I thought, well maybe their unimpressive power set made them seem (pardon the pun) minuscule…but you answered that with reference to other weakly powered heroes and a mention of the relative success of Pym’s DC counterpart. Now I’m intrigued.

I have to admit that I am, at best, only familiar with these two characters through their interactions with the Avengers. I do own a few of their early Tales to Astonish appearances, as well as the Essential Ant-Man volume (which I really should read someday), but none of their adventures really stick out in my head aside from Hank’s overblown beatdown of Janet in the midst of his nervous breakdown. I never knew that Pym had been married before. I did not know that they met each other through Janet’s father. Ah…communists and inter-dimensional aliens…the backbone of early Marvel villainy.

When you think about it, and consider they were created in the Atomic Age and shared a lot of context with Iron Man and the Fantastic Four, it is rather odd that these two didn’t take off. Perhaps it was the title they were originally launched in. Tales to Astonish began as a science fiction anthology similar to its sister title, Tales of Suspense. They both switched to superhero-based stories in 1962. Ant-Man was featured in TtA while Iron Man became the star of ToS. In 1964, both books went to a split format. In TtA, Ant-Man shared space with Incredible Hulk. ToS saw Iron Man and Captain America splitting time. Without having any sort of sales numbers for reference, I can only infer that Tales of Suspense had the more popular configuration. I can also surmise this based on the fact that Ant-Man’s split adventures were quickly usurped after 10 issues by the Sub-Mariner. Obviously, something was wrong.

Was the tone too romantically inclined for readers? Too much “will they, won’t they” and not enough hard science and fantastical settings? Were the personalities all wrong? Pym, by himself, came across as an accomplished yet troubled professional. He had some tragedy in his past, but was trying to move past it and discover new things while also upholding some sort of honor…much like Spider-Man and Hulk. Wasp, on the other hand, came from privilege and was more concerned with fashion than feelings. There weren’t a lot of strong females at Marvel in those days. Aside from Sue Storm and Jean Grey, you’d be hard-pressed to find a prominent woman with her own strong views or any sort of personality (the turning point of this trend coming, of course, in 1966 with the classic introduction of Mary Jane Watson in Amazing Spider-Man #42). Maybe the characterization of Janet Van Dyne irked the title’s audience.

I can honestly say I’ve never been a fan of the Wasp. She just hasn’t had a consistent representation for me. My earliest memories of the Avengers have her playing dress-up in front of a mirror and shopping at exclusive boutiques. In fact, in those early issues I think she was more known for her costume changes than for her participation. She also looked to make Hank jealous at every turn, constantly talking about how handsome Cap and Thor were. She was kind of a snotty bitch. Then decades later, she suddenly grows a pair and is handed the mantle of Avengers leader completely out of left field (correct me if I’m hazy here). Captain America always talked about how strong-willed and reliable she was, but I just didn’t get it.

I also don’t understand how, if Pym gave her powers to her, she ended up with a different set of abilities from Ant-Man. How was she able to fly, but he wasn’t? Where did the stingers come from? Maybe she’s a mutant (as she’s shown to be in the parallel universe Ultimates…where she still isn’t smack-proof).

Pym never really resonated with me either, until his days in the West Coast Avengers. He always seemed to be used in a utilitarian manner. For example, if something was at risk of falling over, Pym was called upon to get big and hold it up. If a door was jammed, Pym was asked to shrink and climb into the lock mechanism. However, he was never asked to actually fight. What could he do? Call some gnats to pester the Wrecking Crew? Ruin Ultron’s picnic? Take a bath in Red Skull’s coffee mug? It wasn’t until the emphasis was taken off the size thing that Pym was treated as a useful member of the team. By rejiggering his Pym Particles and their purpose, Marvel was able to turn him into some sort of armory master always at the ready with the right device or weapon. Even though his costume would make fashion designers go blind, Hank was kind of cool.

You know I eventually want to turn this conversation towards Stature and the new Ant-Man, but I think we need to talk about Hank and Jan some more first. Can you see any glaring reason as to why these two never hit the big time? Do you agree with anything I’ve thrown out there? And are there any solutions that could bring them around in this new age of comics?

I’m honestly not sure why they weren’t more popular, and it’s often confused me. I believe you hit on part of the problem when you say that you don’t remember any of their early stories. I’ve read quite a few of them, and even I don’t remember them. Part of this may be because Stan Lee didn’t write most of them. After the first few stories, he just plotted them and let his brother, Larry Lieber, do the scripting. Plus, Jack Kirby also jumped ship after only a few issues, and the penciling duties went to Don Heck. Now, I’m not here to knock either Lieber or Heck; both of them did fine work for Marvel throughout the 60s, and Heck is especially known for drawing the Avengers and Iron Man for respectable runs. That being said, they were kind of considered the B team of the Marvel Bullpen. Without their top talent on these stories, did the readers not care? Did they feel they were getting the second string, so these characters must not be very popular?

It’s also often said that a hero’s measure is seen in the quality of their villains. We can name Dr. Doom, Dr. Octopus, the Green Goblin, Magneto, Loki, and the Mandarin as some of the Silver Age Marvel villains who helped to catapult their heroes to stardom. Ant-Man and the Wasp had no villains of note. I suppose Pym’s archenemy was Egghead, but even if I tell you nothing else about him, I’m guessing you won’t imagine Egghead as being an incredibly impressive villain (which is kind of a shame, as he was used tremendously effectively by Roger Stern during his run on The Avengers). Many of their other villains are even worse. Their book introduced the Living Eraser, who was just as his name suggested, and for years was considered a punchline by most people, when discussing lame villains. Many of their other villains were assorted monsters and communists, which worked occasionally in other strips, but certainly couldn’t have been the basis for success for those characters that did become popular.

I also think part of the problem is that they kept changing Pym’s identity. Sure, he wasn’t working out as well as they had hoped, and they were trying to find something to make him tick. However, he changed identities four times in six years, which is practically unheard of in the annals of comics (I can’t think of another time it happened). It made the characters seem somewhat schizophrenic, and would become another punchline centering on this character. I think that perhaps, if Ant-Man wasn’t as successful as they had hoped, they might have considered giving him new and different powers, but keeping the identity the same. One change, that to Giant-Man may not have been a bad idea, if nothing else worked, but the two changes beyond that were just overkill.

I’d also point out that not every concept that came out of the Marvel Bullpen in the 60s was a success. The X-Men did horribly for the first fifteen years of their existence, almost being cancelled, and going to bi-monthly reprints for over a year. The Hulk saw his book cancelled after only six issues, and almost disappeared before he got stuck in Tales to Astonish after floating in limbo for a year. Daredevil, while considered popular now, was quickly knocked back to a bi-monthly schedule after being introduced, and stayed that way for over a decade. Perhaps the difference between all of these eventual success stories and Ant-Man and the Wasp is that these other characters managed to maintain their own titles. Even the X-Men, while in reprints for a year, were at least in the public eye. They were also portrayed consistently, unlike Pym, who never met a new identity he didn’t like. And we might want to throw in the Wasp’s costume changes you mentioned. While I think it was a neat addition to her character (hey, we don’t wear the same clothes every day. Why should super-heroes?), her constant costume changes meant she looked different every time a casual reader saw her. It’s hard to become iconic when you have a different appearance every month.

I will also agree that personalities were all over the place. Pym started with a consistent personality, but his buttoned down persona had already caused him to act slightly irrationally within his first year as an Avenger, when the Wasp was shot, and Pym practically had a breakdown trying to save her life. Sure, every Marvel hero in those days was overdramatic (they never met a piece of furniture that they didn’t feel couldn’t be improved with a little chewing), but he was really losing it. This theme was repeated over and over during his tenure with the Avengers, until he had his first actual mental breakdown in 1968. Sadly, this seemed to set the stage for future writers to simply allow Pym to act however they wanted. During the infamous storyline where Pym hit Van Dyne, and then attacked the Avengers, many fans were upset. I myself was also upset, not because it was a horrible storyline, but because it came out of nowhere! Jim Shooter had just started writing the book, and before he came onboard, Pym was fine and stable. The first issue Shooter wrote, it was like someone else inhabited Pym’s body, as Pym suddenly was an emotional wreck. Many other writers would do the same thing, twisting Pym’s personality to fit whatever storyline they wanted to tell.

Janet Van Dyne didn’t make out much better. A flighty female of the worst variety, this is a woman who married her husband after he had suffered a mental breakdown and thought he was another person. Yes, Pym was convinced that he had actually killed Pym and that he was a completely different person. Van Dyne knew this. And she married him anyway. There’s something wrong there. She retained her role as the “flighty socialite” until she was smacked by her husband, when her entire personality changed, as she became more businesslike. I certainly believe that an incident like that would change someone, but her change seemed a little sudden. Through it all, though, I do believe she has a well written personality, and her changes have made sense. Still, it must have been confusing for the casual reader to pick up a book and wonder what happened to the Wasp he had read about before, as she switched back and forth from being a competent and hardnosed leader to being a silly flirt.

Whew! More than I intended to write and more than anyone cared to read, but there it is. Do I think that there’s hope to make these two work in today’s marketplace? Well, I love both Pym and the Wasp. I think both characters should be used more often than they are, and should have a lot more respect, considering they are founding members of the Avengers. However, there’s so much history and water under the bridge with these two. I think it might be best to continue to use them as they are, working independently in the Marvel Universe. After all, there’s a new Ant-Man, and I think there’s a partner out there that could be teamed up with him to make a new team that could be much more popular than the old one.

Again with the excellent assessment! We make a good pair, you and I. You’re able to find the truth behind a character or situation and I’m able to take that truth and re-purpose it to improve the storytelling aspects. You set ’em up and I knock ’em down. We’re like a Fastball Special…y’know, if you were a big metal Russian and I fancied cigars.

You’ve hit the nail on the head on so many points. I had forgotten how many of the second-tier Marvel characters were kept on life support. Makes me wonder if the same would’ve happened to Hank and Janet had they been in their own self-contained series. The villain situation really was dire for the duo. Without at least one credible archenemy to fall back on, their adventures seemed aimless and disposable. And you probably wouldn’t notice it as much these days, but the costume thing is really a big deal when a character is first introduced. You need that frequency and repetition to reinforce the image.

However, after reading your thoughts on Pym’s various identities, I can’t help but think that this may have been the initial poisoning of the characters, the fatal flaw that they were born with. See, Ant-Man was pretty cool by himself. Ooooh! He can shrink down and show us the wonderful world of the near-microscopic. Then they added a female love interest. On face value there’s nothing wrong with that, but then it turns out that her powers nearly mimic those of Ant-Man to the letter. What was the point of having two characters in the same book with the same powers? That would’ve been like pairing up Hulk and Thing and expecting greatness. Sure, they’re good for a misunderstood fracas every now and then, but how boring would it be to have the two of them pounding on inanimate objects page after page after page?

I can only think that if there had been a greater dichotomy between the two of them, it would have made the stories more interesting, the situations more complicated. That’s why I believe that our crusading couple hit their collective stride when Pym became Giant-Man. Now we’ve got a huge dude with his little partner. And, just so it doesn’t look like I’m being sexist, the situation may have been even more interesting if he had stayed Ant-Man and she had become Giant-ette (or something).

Which brings me to the simply inspired pairing of Eric O’Grady and Cassie Lang.

Let’s be realistic. Hank and Jan are a bit too old and historic to be revamped at this stage. In the “Meanwhile…Comics” universe, Hank Pym has already been reassigned to Hawkeye’s west-side support team. And we may as well just let Wasp do whatever she deems appropriate. She’s been portrayed as a fashion designer and a talk show host already. Why not have her pursue life as a psuedo-celeb or government official (really the same thing anyway, right?).

Eric and Cassie are the future of size-based adventures. She’s the previously sheltered daughter of Pym’s successor as Ant-Man. After her father’s unfortunate passing, she rebelled against her family to pursue a path of heroic duty. He’s a former SHIELD operative with less than adequate respect for women (or anything else) who stole an experimental update of Dr. Pym’s Ant-Man costume right from under his nose. He’s been shown as a cocksure, sarcastic and selfish “hero” who is trying to work the system for his own benefit.

PERFECT. MATCH.

I’d like to explore a Wasp/Ant-Man cooperative sort of storyline with these two as the stars. And Janet could play a role as a MILF type character! Kidding…or not. I can see Eric and Cassie bickering constantly, with Eric sticking his foot in his mouth at every turn. There’s also a big difference between the morals and goals of these two that allows them to play off each other. Potential abounds. What say you?

I think these two are exactly what you called them: a perfect match.

These two are your stereotypical odd couple. One of them is part of a heroic legacy, values heroism and believes that being a hero is a higher calling. One of them is a snotty punk who managed to luck into some superhero gear, and has been trying to figure out how to make it work for him. What’s great here is that these two characters would never work together. Luckily for us, we have the Initiative (and isn’t this the mark of any successful writer in a shared universe? The ones I like the most are the ones that can take a company mandated direction, like the 50 state initiative, and make it work for them, rather than fighting it.) and both of these people are signed on with it. So, we simply have the Initiative pair these two. Now they have no choice but to work together.

We’ve already discussed how not every state has a superteam assigned to it, and how it seems like Marvel is scraping the bottom of their super-barrel to find heroes for every state. It seems likely to me that these two could be the only members assigned to one of the more out of the way states. Perhaps they could be sent somewhere like Nevada (does that state have a team yet? Whoops, looks like they do). Ok, scratch that. Let’s try Virginia. Considering that it’s very close to Washington DC and does contain at least one large city, I’m surprised that it doesn’t have a team yet, but it seems up for grabs. So, we send our duo somewhere like that. Then we watch them try to learn to live together.

Eric is a man who’s probably about 5-10 years old than Cassie. He’s got few redeeming qualities, and is more concerned with getting laid and getting rich than he is with helping people. Cassie is trying to live up to the legacy of her father, and seeing this man in her father’s old costume would certainly begin to bother her. Eric, for his part, probably cares not a whit for the previous holder of his super-human moniker, and I can’t imagine he’d have much time for someone he would likely view as a young girl (unless he thought he could get her into bed). I think watching these two trying to learn how to work together, without killing each other, would be a lot of fun.

There’s an interesting aspect to Cassie’s powers which I think Eric could exploit. It seems that her growth powers are affected by her emotions…growing when she’s angry and shrinking when she’s shy. Even though both of them can increase and decrease their sizes, I find it most interesting to have Cassie as the bigger of the two of them. It plays to their personalities. Cassie has big ideals. Eric is really a small and petty person.

Look at me doing all the philosophicalizationating!

I could eventually see Cassie growing (heh, get it?) to like having Eric around, maybe building a crush on him in spite of herself. I also think Eric would be oblivious to the whole situation, more concerned with where he’s going to get his next piece of tail or score his next paycheck and completely missing the fact that Cassie is right there ripe for the picking. There’d be a lot of that “he said, she said” stuff mixed with missed opportunities and tied up nicely with a bunch of crossed wires. It’s the feel good comic of the year! A genuine rom-com romp through superhero trials and tribulations!

I give it five stars.


Expanding the Playing Field: Go West, Young Marvel!

Sep-02-08

Our last topic on Hawkeye and where we wanted to take him got me thinking about the Marvel Universe map. The House of Ideas prides itself on building a universe that is steeped in the “real world.” Their biggest heroes fly above the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the travails of our world are often mirrored in their own…from wars and disasters to celebrities and politics. Of course, establishing that, it often makes me wonder why nearly 100% of the Marvel Universe characters live and work in the New York City area. There’s a whole wide world out there!

I just wanted to rally together a post where we can bring up storylines that took place outside the Big Apple city limits. I’m talking major activities, not single issue excursions. And I’m thinking maybe we can propose some meaningful relocations or invent some new situations that would require the attention of superheroes elsewhere in America. Granted, the Initiative has been launched and, ultimately, there will be teams assigned and active in each of the fifty states. Though I don’t think that should limit our thoughts.

So let’s first show our hands on what “Westward Ho!” storylines we can recall from Marvel’s glorious past:

  1. The Champions – Marvel’s first attempt at making a left coast splash was a bit strange, with a membership that boasted a Greek God, a Russian spy, two members of the original X-Men and a demon on a motorcycle. The “group” located themselves in downtown Los Angeles and are most famous for fighting Swarm, the awesome Nazi beekeeper-turned-skeleton dude. Rumor has it, had the title continued, Black Goliath and Jack of Hearts would’ve been added to the roster.
  2. West Coast Avengers – Obviously. The team set up headquarters outside LA. The series lasted for 102 issues and then begat the horrendous Force Works which lasted an additional 22 issues and is notable for its cringe-worthy artwork and nonsensical plots. West Coast Avengers, however, was pretty dang awesome.
  3. The Order – Matt Fraction’s short-lived series about the new California Initiative team placed the team in Bradbury on the northeastern edge of Los Angeles.
  4. The Defenders – During their “New” period, the non-team centered themselves in a Colorado property owned by Warren Worthington’s family.
  5. Daredevil – Temporarily relocated his heroics to San Francisco alongside his then-girlfriend Black Widow.
  6. Incredible Hulk – Of course, Marvel’s re-imagining of the Jekyll and Hyde classic originally took place in the deserts of the American Southwest.
  7. Wonder Man – His brief solo series positioned him as a wannabe actor/stuntman in Hollywood.
  8. Spider-Woman – Jessica Drew began her costumed career in Los Angeles.
  9. Werewolf by Night – Poor, cursed Jack Russell lived in Malibu, California.
  10. Moon Knight – Not sure where he was officially based back in the day, but Marc Spector was born in Chicago and spent quite a bit of time (whether chasing werewolves or joining the Avengers) on the West Coast.
  11. Howard the Duck – Originated in the Florida Everglades and lived in Cleveland, Ohio.
  12. Great Lakes Avengers – Proudly representing the Upper Midwest.
  13. Uncanny X-Men – Recently relocated to San Francisco. Time will tell what that move holds.

Can you think of anyone else in Marvel’s stable who has spent considerable time somewhere in the United States that isn’tNew York (or New Jersey, which is pretty much just New York’s jockstrap)? And, furthermore, can you think of anyone who should spend time outside of Manhattan? Chicago, Miami, Seattle, St. Louis, Las Vegas, anywhere in Texas, even the New England states? It’s a big country. There’s bound to be some stories to tell out there somewhere.

I suppose we should mention Alpha Flight, who spend their time in the beautiful wilds of Canada, and Excalibur, who spend their time in jolly old England. With that being said, I agree that New York City has been overused to the extreme by the creators of the Marvel Universe. Of course, the original reason (so the legends say) that Stan and his co-creators used New York City so much in the early days of Marvel was because they all lived in the city, so they knew it. As time has passed, many creators of Marvel titles have left the city and now live all over the country, so this reasoning should no longer hold true.

I suppose you could make the argument that there is more crime in New York City than in many other places, but is there really more crime in NYC than there is in Washington DC? In Los Angeles? In any major city in the United States (and probably in other countries as well)? An argument could also be raised that there’s more going on in New York City to attract criminals, and more money for criminals to make. While I would certainly agree that it may make more sense to hit a bank in the middle of NYC than to rob a bank in the middle of Missouri, when you factor in the chances of being caught in NYC over being caught in Missouri, I’ll take Missouri, thank you very much.

As silly as it seems for their to be so many superheroes based in NYC, it makes even less sense to have so many supervillains based there. Why wouldn’t someone like the Shocker head out to Kansas or to Florida? He could clean up! We tend to look at someone like him as being pretty lame, and having stupid powers, but that’s just because Spider-Man makes the Shocker look ineffectual. Against normal policemen, the Shocker would be very difficult to beat. So, why doesn’t he go fight regular policemen, and stop banging his head against the wall that is Spider-Man? The same could be said of so many villains around his power level; they may not be perfect against superheroes, but they would do well in areas that doesn’t have so many super-powered do-gooders. Why would they stay in the superhero capitol of the world?

I’ve never understood why Captain America didn’t relocate to Washington DC. I know he doesn’t work for the government, but he’s concerned about protecting it, and shouldn’t the symbol of our country be located in the country’s capitol? Did he just stay in New York so he could hang out at Avengers Mansion?

The Avengers should certainly move out of the city. If they want to stay close to the city, for whatever reason, that’s fine. But the mansion has too often come under attack, and that endangers all their neighbors. They tried to move the mansion once, to a floating island off the coast of the city, but Doom sunk it, so they went right back to their old location, right in the middle of the city. I’m not sure why they’re so fond of the city, but at the very least they should be in a suburb. Maybe they can rent the X-Men’s old mansion in Westchester?

Of course, there are those characters that really do belong in the city. Spider-Man shouldn’t move out of New York, as he’s as much a part of the city as Batman is a part of Gotham City. I think the Fantastic Four should stay in the city; they were there first and it truly does help to ground them as humans first and heroes second. However, I would say that the other New York heroes, like Daredevil and Dr. Strange, should feel free to get the heck outta town.

I’d love to see Dr. Strange move somewhere a tad more atmospheric than Greenwich Village. Perhaps he could relocate to Boston or to Salem. It seems like New England would be a perfect area for him, one steeped in history and ancient secrets. Or, perhaps he should move to Louisiana, into the old French Quarter of New Orleans. There certainly must be areas that scream magic more than his current digs.

This has been a little scattered, I’ll admit, simply because there’s so much to discuss, and I’ve been throwing out ideas left and right. Do you have some ideas you’d like to focus on?

Well, Alpha Flight and Excalibur are givens (and both have had extensive runs in the past). I was focusing more on activity within the US borders. I just remember how DC dropped Chemo on the city of Bludhaven during Infinite Crisis and I can’t help but think of the near-complete super-community loss if Marvel were to do the equivalent with their Big Apple.

Hmm…Doctor Strange in New England is an interesting premise. Didn’t the Defenders have at least a temporary HQ up there? That’s where the Hellstroms were based, right? And, of course, Brother Voodoo is usually based out of New Orleans. But being that none of those mentioned are nearly as prominent as Strange, it would be an easy transition to get him out of town…especially considering all the troubles with Skrulls and Registrations and magical conflicts.

Relocating Captain America is an inspired no-brainer in itself. Look, Marvel clearly creates most of their heroes and villains based off of certain archetypes, stereotypes and themes. By extension, those characters should be placed in the cities that most perfectly mirror their most important attributes. For example, put the cocky, scene-stealers in LA…the political-minded folks arrive in DC…the down-to-earth hardworking heroes go to Chicago and other midwest towns…it all makes perfect sense.

I also LOVE the idea of a villainous mass exodus from the streets of downtown Manhattan. I can just picture one of those patented Marvel bad guy rallies in the basement of some abandoned church (or at the Bar With No Name) where the collected group just says “F*** This” and hits the road, hobo packs over their shoulders. That would make for a funny, if not enlightening, miniseries which could delve further into the operation and effectiveness of the 50-State Initiative. There’s no fighting the logic that even corny villains will do much better holding up the First National Bank of Wichita, then waiting in line with all the other thugs to rip off the same ATM machine across the same street from Peter Parker’s apartment building.

This would also create endless scenarios for up-and-coming characters to make a name for themselves. If I were trying to prove my worth, I certainly wouldn’t want to be battling evil on the same city block as the Fantastic Four. How can you compete with that? How do you get noticed (in a good way)?

I suppose we have to be careful with who we try to move where though. Some of Marvel’s oldest heroes have their origins built around their surroundings. As you’ve said, Spidey and the FF stay in New York. I also think, because of his strong ties to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, that Daredevil has to stay put as well. As far as other folks with their own titles: Punisher seems to be everywhere at once, so it’s hard to rectify him being based out of NYC. For a hero whose motivation is based around removing corruption, I’d rather see him working in DC…Hulk is all over the place and rarely ends up in Manhattan anyway…Iron Man should clearly be located in a region that is more tech-heavy, somewhere like Seattle or San Francisco or The Triangle in North Carolina (though I can’t picture Tony Stark with a southern twang)…Iron Fist, due to his background, is fairly global…Black Panther is in Africa…Moon Knight could easily be placed in Chicago…Ghost Rider is on a motorcycle…Thor is, uh…

Quite frankly, I could care less where the X-Men call home. Their melodramatic adventures take them all over the universe, and their headquarters get blown up at least once an issue anyway.

I guess the biggest problem is the villains. If you remove them from the equation, then there isn’t a need for the hero density in downtown New York either. Villains are stupid.


1986: It Was A Very Good Year.

Apr-18-08

While doing research for our Defenders post, I began to realize that a lot of great (and a few not so great) things were going on at Marvel Comics back in 1986. So here, in a brief and highly disorganized ramble, is a recap of the year that Marvel Comics hit its stride (I think).

In 1986, I was making the transition from middle school to high school. It was a tumultuous year. I was saying goodbye to friends that would be attending a different high school and I was filled with anxiety over meeting new people at my new school (our school district is kind of twisted, don’t ask). This was the year that I embraced comics completely and let my paper friends comfort me in the transition. Granted, I had been reading comics since around 1978 and collecting them seriously since 1984, but this one year had it all for me.

I wasn’t the only one in transition though. Jim Shooter was running a tight ship at Marvel and the publisher was celebrating its 25th anniversary. However, not everything was puppies and rainbows. Marvel was about to be purchased by New World Entertainment, which looked great on paper and added both an animation studio and a feature film outlet for their characters. Unfortunately, New World didn’t know how to handle the business and soon sold it off to Ron Perelman. The rest of the debacle you can read in Dan Raviv’s excellent book, Comic Wars.

So what was the big deal with ‘86? I’m glad you asked. First of all, a couple miniseries hit the shelves that changed the way I looked at the Marvel Universe. Firestar was a character I knew from the Spider-Man cartoons and I was curious as to how they would work her into real continuity. Balder the Brave was an unknown Asgardian to me and I was eager to learn about more than Thor and Loki. And finally: The Punisher. The team of Baron, Zeck and Janson just blew my mind. At the time, all were minor characters and I don’t think anyone could have predicted what would become of Frank Castle’s story.

Punisher #1

Aside from the focus on new characters, Marvel was pulling off some of its best ongoing work as well. We had Bill Mantlo writing Alpha Flight AND Cloak & Dagger. Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run was in full force (as was his Squadron Supreme maxiseries). Walt Simonson was working on what would become an iconic run on Thor. The West Coast Avengers, a pivotal book in my comic obsession, had recently begun their ongoing title. John Byrne was writing AND drawing not only the Fantastic Four but ALSO the Incredible Hulk!?! Oh, and Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham was still going strong too. Sue me, I like the funny.

Spider-Ham #12

It wasn’t all joy and excitement for me though. Two of my favorite books disappeared from the shelves forever: The Defenders and Power Man and Iron Fist. Also falling casualty to slowing sales were three licensed books: ROM, Star Wars and the Further Adventures of Indiana Jones (which was actually a great read).

Indiana Jones #34

Unfortunately, not only was the dreadful Secret Wars II going on in 1986, but the New Universe launched as well. But those travesties were offset by the launch of the new X-Factor series. And the end of 1986 marked the beginning of what I believe to be one of the best written storylines in all of comics history: Roger Stern’s great “Under Siege” run in Avengers.

But the biggest event of 1986 for me had to be the introduction of the new Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. I easily lost myself in the pages of each issue of that title…memorizing every detail, every event and every secret identity in Marvel’s intriguing world. To this day, I still test the true faith of supposed fans by asking them “Which villain’s real name was Bruno Horgan?”

Marvel Handbook #8

Yeah…look it up, posers! (CLUE: He’s in the issue shown above.)

1986. I can’t think of a better time to be a Marvel Zombie.

Interesting that you would pick 1986, and yet, as a Marvel Zombie, you don’t mention The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen, two seminal mini-series from that time as well. They show up on most people’s lists, but not on yours, since you’re focusing exclusively on Marvel.

I know that Maggie Thompson from Comics Buyers Guide has said (and she may not be the only or even the first person to say this) that everyone has their own Golden Age of Comics, and that their personal Golden Age is when they were twelve. I’m not sure that the exact age is always correct, but I agree that the comics of our childhood will always be our favorites, or at least hold a special place in our hearts. It’s obvious that this describes 1986 for you. I also have a special place in my heart for many of these comics, but being a cold, unfeeling android, I can often separate what is good due to nostalgia from what is good due to quality.

I wouldn’t dream of arguing the memories of your childhood, so instead of mentioning a few of these series where I disagree with your opinion of them, let me focus on the ones where I agree wholeheartedly.

I think Mark Gruenwald’s writing was always underappreciated, especially when one considers that he was doing it while holding down a job as one of Marvel’s best Group Editors. I think that almost all of his long run on Captain America is worthy of reading, but I also agree that he was strongest right out of the gate. His stories involving the Serpent Society and Scourge were excellent. Captain America is, I think, a difficult character to write well, but Gruenwald seemed to understand how to make him inspiring and heroic, without being boring. As Jason says, Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme was another excellent read, and about fifteen years ahead of its time, looking at a superteam in a more realistic way. Finally, while it came out after 1986, I need to take a moment to plug the first few dozen issues of his Quasar comic. The later issues devolved into overly complicated messes that tied into some truly horrible miniseries, but the early issues were an excellent examination of a super-hero just starting out in his career.

I could comment on a few other series, but instead let me take a few moments to mention Roger Stern. You bring up his “Under Siege” storyline in the Avengers, and rightly so, as it remains one of the best multi-issue storylines in Avengers history, and truly in the history of about any comic I’ve read. Why Roger Stern isn’t currently writing four books a month will remain a mystery to me. I consider him one of the best writers I’ve had the pleasure of encountering in comics and I have been continually amazed by what he has been able to do with what have been some truly horrible comics.

Two series illustrate this point very well. The first is The Incredible Hulk which he started writing at a time when the book, to my eyes, sorely needed help. The Hulk had been a mindless dolt, running around the countryside having random adventures for what seemed like years. His comic was pointless and dull. Stern came on board, set up a new staus quo, introduced some supporting characters, and give the comic a purpose. He was the first writer in the series history to make the Hulk interesting for me. Sadly, his run on the title was very short.

He performed the same amazing feat on the original Ghost Rider series. Ghost Rider’s series had been boring me to tears since Tony Isabella left the title back in the 70s. The stories since then weren’t necessarily bad as much as they were unconnected stories which seemed to blend into each other. Again, the series lacked direction. Stern came onboard, and again, he gave this title direction. He brought in a supporting cast and gave us plots that made us care about these new people in Blaze’s life (and, to be honest, to care about Blaze’s life, which I had stopped caring about some time before). Unfortunately, he again left the title in a short time.

I could go on and on, talking about his work on Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, and a slew of other comics, but instead, let me just come back to the Avengers. If I had to pick my favorite comic series of all time, it would probably be the Avengers. There are many reasons for this, but part of it has to be because I was lucky enough to begin reading it during Roger Stern’s run as writer, which thankfully, lasted quite a few years. All of his stories are good, but his run really began to take off when he was paired with John Buscema and Tom Palmer on art. This art team gave his stories a weight and grandeur that made them more than comic stories; they became epics. The “Under Siege” story was certainly the highpoint, but it was quickly followed by a multi-part epic where the team when to Olympus to fight the Greek Gods, which is almost as incredible. Never before or since have the Avengers so embodied their title of “The Earth;s Mightiest Heroes.”

Yeah, DC was pretty active in 1986 too. You mention Dark Knight Returns and the beginning issues of Watchmen…there was also the start of solo series for both Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. Crisis on Infinite Earths wrapped up in ’86 and the important Legends series began. And don’t get me started on indie comics…Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Ralph Snart Adventures and the relaunched Grendel all saw print then. It was a pretty busy year for all comics!

I’m not saying 1986 was the pinnacle of comics as we know them (although, not being alive during either the traditional Golden or Silver Ages, I think it was pretty close). Oddly enough, I was 14 going on 15 that year…so not too far off from Maggie Thompson’s ideal. I actually started collecting heavily when I was 12 though.

Anyway, yeah I know which of my spotlights — *cough*Firestar*cough* — you’re referencing when you talk about separating nostalgia from quality. But I think I pointed out the reasons WHY I thought they were important and, frankly, it had nothing to do with quality but more to do with coming from a different place and showcasing something new.

It’s funny that you touch on Mark Gruenwald. Not too many people know this, but I actually had a letter-exchanging friendship with Mr. Gruenwald around the time of his Cap run. We talked about the changing times in comics and he advised me to read what I liked. I was actually quite upset when I read that he had passed away.

And Roger Stern was perhaps my favorite writer of the time as well. Like you, I would call The Avengers my favorite book of all time (I have quite the extensive collection). While I came of age reading his run on the book, I was also active in collecting the back issues featuring runs by Englehart, Conway, Thomas and Shooter. In fact, right now I’m reading Assembled! by the folks at AvengersAssemble.net. It’s a fun read about Avengers history. DK Publishing also put out a pretty book called Avengers: The Ultimate Guide written by Tom DeFalco…beautiful art and brief write-ups of all the prominent members of the team, their villains and the important storylines.